My favorite Bible character is Stephen.
The ministry Christ did through Stephen is recorded in Acts 6 and 7, and it has always given me hope and inspiration that Jesus has a use for anyone who is available to take a public stand for his name. In the case of Stephen, though he was an argumentative and confrontational person, because he availed his sharp tongue to Jesus, God used it to infuriate the religious fanatics of the day so much that they worked themselves to a frenzy to destroy his reputation and his life, thus exposing them publicly to be completely held captive by a religious spirit that is hateful, deceitful, blasphemous, slanderous, and murderous.
And the icing on the cake is that Stephen had no fancy title like Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor, or Apostle, nor did he draw a large crowd or live in the city’s finest mansions or rub shoulders with the Who’s Who of society, yet the occasion of his public defense of the truth that Christ is supreme above all the dung religious fanatics exalt, which earned him a march to the city gates for stoning, is the only time the New Testament says that Christ, who is otherwise always described as SEATED on the right hand of God, is instead described as STANDING at the right hand of God. It is as though Jesus was giving Stephen a standing ovation to say “well done” and to welcome him home.
Beware of the desire for the applause of men, and beware of cowering from taking a public stand for Jesus for fear of the attacks of men, for it is written that what is highly esteemed among men is detestable before God. Human beings highly esteem outward things, such as great power, great talent, great looks, great riches, great education, great connections, and great fame. When you have them, they praise you and parade you as a model of the success all people should aspire to and emulate, and if you have them while you are spiritually weak and immature, even you yourself may be tempted to flaunt these things as marks of God’s approval, when all they are is marks of God’s generosity, by which he gives freely to the righteous and the wicked without holding their faults against them. Similarly, when you don’t have these outward things, or have them less than others, or have them less than you desire, religious fanatics may demoralize you by claiming that the absence of these things means you don’t have God’s approval, and if you lack them at a time you are spiritually weak and immature, even you yourself may be tempted to join them in prizing and pursuing God’s generosity above God’s approval, thus reducing God into nothing more than a means to your carnal and temporal ends.
I often find in myself, that is in my sinful nature, a strong desire and pull towards both these errors. And when I feel the pull, or momentarily succumb to it, I must turn my weak and poor heart towards Christ again and once again see him as my great treasure, a treasure compared to which all of the things men regard as treasure have the value of Matudzi, and a treasure I must once again claim and proclaim as my great treasure the same way he claims and proclaims me as his. For what God esteems is inward, the condition and posture of your heart towards him. And from generation to generation, God has always placed his delight not in those whose greatest accolade is works of righteousness or works of charity or works of miracles, but whose greatest accolade is having a heart that wants God more than his gifts or his displays of power, a broken spirit and a contrite heart that wants to be more like God in nature than in assets, the kind of heart Stephen proved he had and wanted when he instantly and unconditionally forgave and prayed favorably for the religious fanatics who were stoning him to death.
So this New Year, May Jesus captivate your heart and occupy it as your first love, and may you see all the good and bad you encounter this year as God’s means to a great end, that of establishing and displaying Jesus as the Good you prize and the Name you praise above all others.
Happy New Year.